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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Super Bowl XVLII: Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh in the “HarBowl”

In Family, Sports on January 21, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Super Bowl XLVII - The HarBowl

In January of 2012, in a basement in Mequon, Wisconsin, Jack Harbaugh and his wife, Jackie, watched both of their sons coach their respective teams to heartbreaking losses in the AFC and NFC Championship Games.  Both of their sons came up a field goal short from coaching in the Super Bowl.

A year later, the Harbaughs found themselves in the exact same basement watching their sons coaching their teams in the AFC and NFC Championship Games with another chance to go to the Super Bowl.  This year, both sons won their respective games.

While the Harbaughs are certainly happier this year than they were with last year’s results, there is still plenty of stress to deal with in this situation.

The proud Harbaugh parents are guaranteed a bittersweet moment in the coming weeks.  They are in the unique position of knowing with 100% certainty that their son is going to join the ranks of Super Bowl winning coaches on February 13, 2013 at the Superdome in New Orleans.  Unfortunately for the Harbaughs, that victory is going to come at the expense of their other son – the price they pay for having two sons achieving the highest level of coaching success in the NFL.

It would be an understatement to say that the road to the Super Bowl was challenging for both Harbaugh brothers.

Early in the day, Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco Forty Niners came back from a 17-point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta.  They did so by making halftime adjustments and shutting out the Falcons in the second half.

Last night, John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens defeated the New England Patriots in Foxboro, MA after trailing at halftime.  It was the first time – in 68 games – that Tom Brady had ever lost a home game when leading going into halftime.  The Ravens made halftime adjustments and shut out the Patriots in the second half.

Making adjustments is something that both Harbaugh brothers do with confidence.  Both made some gutsy mid-season changes during their journey to this historic Super Bowl matchup.

When Alex Smith was injured during the Niners game against the St. Louis Rams, Colin Kaepernick took over at quarterback and led San Francisco to a come-from-behind tie.  The following week, Kaepernick got the start again when Smith wasn’t medically cleared to play against the Chicago Bears, and led the Niners to victory in an impressive fashion.

It was assumed that Smith – who had led the Niners to a 6-2 record on the heels of last year’s NFC Championship Game appearance – would regain his starting role once he was cleared to play.  However, Jim Harbaugh chose to remain with Kaepernick as the starter, even though he had only started one game in his NFL career.

The Ravens got off to an impressive start this season, winning 9 of their first 11 games.  After a two-game losing streak, where the Ravens scored 20 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers and 28 points against the Washington Redskins, Offensive Coordinator, Cam Cameron, was fired.  With only three games remaining in the season, John Harbaugh elevated Jim Caldwell – a coach who had no previous play-calling experience – to Offensive Coordinator.

The Ravens lost two of their last three games, and never scored more than 17 points in the process.  However, the Ravens have not scored less than 24 points since the playoffs began, and the team has outscored Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks.

It is abundantly clear that neither Harbaugh brother is influenced at all by the opinions of NFL analysts, sports reporters, fans or any other outside source.

If Kaepernick didn’t lead his team to the Super Bowl, Jim certainly would have been questioned for making such a drastic move in the middle of the year.  And though the Ravens playoff ascension was unexpected as the #4 seed in the AFC, the bottom line is that John would have been questioned for making the coordinator change if the Ravens offense continued to sputter after Cameron was fired.

After the Ravens game, John spoke about how proud he was of his little brother and his respect for the way the Niners play the game.  He said that the Niners and Ravens are very similar in their makeup and their approach.  Both teams play an extremely hard-hitting, physical style of football.

Throughout the season and the playoffs, both teams have shown incredible resolve in the face of adversity, so this should be a very close Super Bowl with both teams battling until the final snap.

Super Bowl XVLII has many interesting storylines, but the unique aspect of brothers facing each other as head coaches has given the game a whole new level of intrigue that certainly has football fans anxiously awaiting what many are calling the “HarBowl.”

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They Grow Up So Fast…Be Careful What You Wish For

In Family, Life, Life Lessons on January 12, 2013 at 9:42 am

They Grow Up So Fast

The holidays brought in an influx of toys for my little one, leaving her already cluttered room in more disarray than it was previously.  At some point, every kid must let go of some of the toys that they no longer use to make room for new ones.  When my wife had trouble finding a place for everything, we told our little one that she had to move some things out of her room.  In our minds, we imagined our daughter getting rid of all of the things that we considered to be well past their prime…things like old Happy Meal toys would have been a great start.  But our little one surprised us both.

First came the Dora the Explorer doll that she loved not so long ago.  Much to our chagrin, Dora no longer has a place in my daughter’s life.  She never watches the show anymore; she would rather flip through the channels endlessly, telling us that nothing is on, instead of popping in the Dora DVD’s that were once her favorites.

Then came a little stuffed Blue from Blue’s Clues.  While we weren’t surprised that she has outgrown the show, we were surprised that she was ready to part with any stuffed animal, especially a dog, because they are her latest obsession.  Undoubtedly, it won’t be long before the stuffed dogs lose their luster, and she’s on to the next thing.

When I saw the stuffed Berenstain Bears lying on the floor outside of my daughter’s room, I was surprised and saddened.  It seems like it was just yesterday that she was begging for them, and I was frantically searching everywhere to make sure that she got them as gifts just a few Christmases ago.  She used to watch the Berenstain Bears videos over and over again.  Truth be told, it was one of the few kids’ shows that I enjoyed watching.  I couldn’t “bear” to see them go, so I convinced her to find a place for them, even if she didn’t intend to play with them anymore.

Parents have always said that their kids grow up so fast, and that time passes by much faster than any of us would like.  It’s a harsh reality that most parents deal with at some point, but at this point in time, it is even more difficult because my daughter’s growth is happening on the heels of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  It has really hit home for me with my daughter because the victims were all in the same grade as her.

I often wish that I could freeze this moment in time, but I know that isn’t reality.  The reality is that my little one is ready to move on to the next phase of her childhood regardless of whether we are ready for it or not.  It may make us a bit sad and nostalgic, but there is nothing that we can do to stop it from happening.

Even though I convinced my little one to let the Berenstain Bears stay for a little while longer, I know that they are in her room now more for us than they are for her.  And that’s alright with me.  At the very least, when I look at them, I will be reminded to cherish each phase in her life because there is no telling how long each one will last.

Protecting America’s Children

In Family, Life, Life Lessons on December 21, 2012 at 9:39 am

Sandy Hook victims

The sky was a flawless shade of blue on the morning of 9/11/01 in New York City, and everything was right with the world.  At 8:46am, everyone believed that a tragic accident had occurred with a small plane hitting the Twin Towers.  By 9:03am, when the second plane hit the towers, we all knew that wasn’t the case.  Instantly, the America that we once knew was gone.  From that moment on, every American had no choice but to accept the realization that terrorist attacks can happen on American soil.

We failed as a nation to protect innocent citizens on that day.  Shortly thereafter, we beefed up national security, and to date, we have not suffered any casualties from terrorist attacks on American soil.

Since 9/11/01 there have been over twenty school shootings, and yet, we have still not stepped up as a nation to address this problem.

We have successfully thwarted terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists on U.S. soil, but as a nation, we are failing to protect our most precious resource…the children of America!

There are many issues that need addressing if we are going to stop the terrorism that we are experiencing in schools, but one issue is paramount.

Should we ban assault rifles for private citizens?  It would be a good start, but it is not a cure-all.

Should we provide more help to people with mental illnesses?  Absolutely.  But again, not a cure-all.

What if we allowed prayer in schools?  It may make a lot of people feel better, but it will not stop a maniacal gunman from shooting up a school.

All of these issues should be addressed, but there is one step that should be taken immediately to keep our children safe in school.

The time has come for America to beef up security in our schools the way that we did immediately after the 9/11 attacks.  The terrorists that have succeeded in carrying out their missions over the past 11 years are not Muslim extremists; they are young, disturbed, heavily armed, white males who share the same disregard for human life as the terrorists who attacked our country on 9/11.  They have been able to carry out their missions against innocent, defenseless targets with little to no resistance, and we simply cannot sit idly by and hope that this won’t happen again.  We have to proactively stop it from happening.

Unfortunately, we must fight fire with fire, and that does not mean arming teachers and principals as some have suggested.  A teacher’s job is challenging enough without having to add the responsibility of becoming an expert marksman to the list.  However, the country is filled with people who can handle the job, trained policeman and military veterans to name a few.

On 9/11/01, we learned a valuable lesson about our nation’s security vulnerabilities.  Since that time, we have had multiple school shootings, but we still have not learned our lesson.   We shake our heads in disbelief when there is a shooting at a high school.  We are sad for the families who suffer losses and we pray that it never happens in our local high school.

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School has shaken the nation to its core.  Because the victims were so young and innocent, we cannot fathom how anyone can look into a terrified child’s eyes and pull the trigger without hesitation.  In many ways, this unspeakable tragedy is as bad as what happened on 9/11/01.  In some ways, it is worse.

On 12/14/12, in a tightknit rural community in Connecticut, the last bit of innocence that we had left in America was mercilessly taken away from us all in one fell swoop.  We MUST do whatever it takes to make sure that a tragedy like this never happens again!

Nothing that we do going forward will bring back the innocent victims whose lives ended way too soon.  The families that they left behind will never be the same, and no amount of time that passes will ever help to fill the void created by their passing.

The best that we can all hope for at this point is for this tragedy to serve as a wake-up call to America to do what is necessary to protect our children.

 

Please click here to learn more about each Sandy Hook Elementary School victim (slideshow in the middle of the page).

 

The Downside of Progress…The Upside of Simpler Times

In Family, Life on December 17, 2012 at 10:25 am

nostalgia

It was over 35 years ago on this date that my family and I moved to Long Island from Queens.  Although the people who bought the house from my parents have now lived there longer than we did, I will always consider it home.

I still remember my first day in the house.  We got there ahead of the movers, so there was no furniture in the house yet.  My siblings and I sat on the carpeted kitchen floor eating Hostess Cupcakes off of a small plastic outdoor patio table.  I was a bit nervous to go to a new school, particularly in the middle of the year, but I was excited about living in a nice house with a huge backyard.

Although starting in a new school is never easy, my first week was fun because it was the week before Christmas break.  Everyone was in high spirits, and the classwork was kept to a minimum because the school was in holiday mode.  It didn’t take long for me to start making friends, and by the time the break came around a week later, I was already playing outside with other kids in the neighborhood.

It was a long, cold winter that year, and though I had a lot of fun in the snow, I was happy for spring to arrive.  Before long, I was riding my bike down the block to go play sports with my friends, and playing little league baseball for the first time.  We didn’t need organized sports as much because we played on our own, but I enjoyed it just the same.

Our new house had a push button phone, a step-up from the rotary phone in our house in Queens.  Our family room had cable television, a step-up from the rabbit ears that we had in Queens.  Other than that, there was no other technology to make our lives “easier.”

When the phone rang, we all wanted to answer it, hoping that it was a call for us.  Today we use caller ID to properly direct the calls to the appropriate family member, or worse, to screen a call that you’re not in the mood to take.  The phone had a cord that kept you tethered nearby.  We didn’t have cordless phones, much less smartphones that are so addicting that you feel lost if the battery dies or you forget to bring it with you.

If we wanted to watch a particular television show, we made sure to be in front of the TV when it was on.  There was no DVR, much less on demand.  We had one shot to see the show, and if we missed it, the moment was gone.  Shows like The Wizard of Oz were special because they were only shown once each year, and it was usually an event that the family looked forward to sharing together.

There was no Internet.  If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the library to get the information.  We couldn’t just “Google it.”

We got our news from newspapers, television and radio from professional journalists who were more concerned with getting it right than being first, which nowadays leads to an incredible amount of misinformation spreading like wildfire.  We had the information that we needed not every graphic detail about a story because the news was about the highlights.  The 24/7 news cycle is probably the most detrimental “progress” that we have experienced in our lifetime, as it has done little to inform, but has contributed greatly to the divisive society that has engulfed America.

Social media has succeeded in connecting us to people who were once a part of our lives, but more importantly, it has failed us because it allows us to disconnect from actual face-to-face contact and phone conversations.  It has also become a place where bullying is very common, and it is not limited to kids in school.  Adults are equally as abusive to those who don’t agree with their point of view.  Before social media, we knew the views of those who we spoke to directly, but had no idea what our hundreds and hundreds of “friends” were thinking about any given subject.

In spite of all of the “progress” that we have made through technology, given the choice, I would gladly go back to the way life was when I was a kid.

Nostalgia has a funny way of removing the tarnish from every memory, leaving behind nothing by precious gems to be cherished, but I still wish that my children could experience the childhood that I had when things were simpler.

Was my life perfect?  Absolutely not!  But it was better for sure.

We were able to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without worrying that it might kill one of our classmates who has a deadly peanut allergy, undoubtedly a result of the “progress” that we’ve made in making less expensive, processed food.

We played organized sports, but didn’t rely on them to be our only source of exercise.  We rode our bikes to parks and played with friends until dark.

We didn’t live in a state of constant fear, and we certainly never thought about getting gunned down in school.

We couldn’t possibly have imagined what life would be like for our kids back then, but I can say now that I never would have expected life to be like this.

This date used to be a happy one for me to reflect back upon my childhood and my life on Long Island, but today it’s not.

Today, I walked my kids into their elementary school with hesitation.  A lady whom I’ve never met gave me a smile of support as she saw me hug and kiss my little one goodbye and watch her walk down the hall as I always do.  When my daughter was out of sight, she came over to me and introduced herself as the new superintendent.  She clearly saw the anguish on my face that I’ve been trying to hide all weekend since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  She told me that she wants to build a fortress around the school.  I agreed that it would be a good idea.  We both had tears in our eyes.

When I left the building, I stopped to speak to the teacher aide from my daughter’s class.  My wife and I grew very fond of her last year when she volunteered to walk my daughter to her Kindergarten class every day because of her separation anxiety.  She didn’t know my daughter, but she saw a little girl in distress and wanted to help.  Needless to say, my wife and I were thrilled when we found out that she was going to be in my daughter’s classroom this year.

I asked her how she was doing and she told me that she spent the whole weekend crying.  She has been in this school for nearly 20 years, and she still thinks of each kid in her classroom as “her kids.”  We talked about how she and I sat next to each other building gingerbread houses on Friday while the unspeakable tragedy was being carried out in Newtown, CT.  We talked about the innocence of the kids in the class, all of whom are the same age as the kids who perished in Sandy Hook Elementary School.  She told me that she would gladly step in front of her kids and take a bullet to protect them, and I didn’t doubt what she said for a second.  I know that she would, but I wish that it wasn’t necessary to even discuss this hypothetical scenario.  We both had tears in our eyes as we said goodbye to each other this morning.

There’s something to be said for the simpler times I enjoyed.

What if It Was Your Child?

In Family, Life, Life Lessons on December 15, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Disbelief

Every time there is a shooting tragedy, gun lovers immediately launch into their usual 2nd Amendment diatribe.  In light of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, where 20 innocent children perished at the hands of a gun-wielding maniac, I was hoping that we would be spared the “guns don’t kill people…people kill people” rhetoric, but that seems to be nothing more than wishful thinking on my part.

I’ve always stayed away from proactively taking a public stance on this issue because it is so divisive, but in light of the slaughtering of innocent children, I decided that it was worth the risk of ruffling some feathers.

I believe that people should have the right to possess a weapon for self-defense, but I see no purpose in stockpiling weapons or possessing assault rifles, both of which go well beyond the scope of self-defense.

To those who staunchly disagree with my position, I have one simple question for you…

What if it was your child?

Take a moment before you post another rant about the 2nd Amendment, or another pro-gun image, and put yourself in the place of the parents who lost their children yesterday in Newtown, CT.

Close your eyes and imagine dropping your child or children off at elementary school.  You give them a hug and a kiss, tell them you love them and to have a good day.  You go about your day business as usual, with the full expectation that you will see your child at the end of the day like you always do.

Now imagine that you get a notification from the elementary school shortly after the school day begins.  You find out that there has been a shooting in your town, and your stomach is instantly tied up in knots.  Then you find out that the shooting has taken place at your child’s school.

You get into your car and drive as fast as humanly possible to the school where you are given instructions to wait outside, not knowing whether your child was a victim or not.

You see a line of children walking together in single file, their tiny hands resting on the shoulders of the classmate in front of them to guide them because they have been told to keep their eyes closed as they exit to shelter them from seeing the carnage that has taken place moments earlier.

You wait and watch as parents are reunited with their children, hugging, kissing and crying uncontrollably (parents and children alike).  You pray that your child will be the next one out the door, and you wait.  And you wait.  And you wait some more as you watch parent after parent breathing an emotional sigh of relief that their child is safe.

Now picture that the school officials come out and tell you that there will be no more reunions, and you are amongst the 20 sets of parents that is left standing, knowing that you may never see your child again.  You pray in disbelief that there must have been some mistake.  It’s tragic beyond words what has happened, but you can’t imagine that it can happen to you.  Not to your precious, innocent child who has so much more living to do.  Not to your child who gave you a hug and kiss and told you that they loved you just hours before.  The world can’t possibly be that cruel…can it?

Sadly, the answer is “yes,” the world can be that cruel.  And now you are left to pick up the pieces to be there for your other children.

Do you go home, look at their room, their photos and every other reminder of them and crumble to the ground wishing that you had been the one to take the bullet so that they could have lived?

Or do you sit down at the computer, login to Facebook, and shout to the world that you lost your child because there are not enough guns in the world?

Do you stand on a virtual soapbox raging about how we need to protect the 2nd Amendment at all costs regardless of the increase in the number of senseless shootings that take the lives of so many innocent people?

Do you even for a minute think to yourself…guns don’t kill people…people kill people?

The End of the Innocence

In Family, Life, Life Lessons on December 14, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Sandy Hook Elementary

“It was the best of times…it was the worst of times.”

Today started off on a high note.  My little one was excited that we were invited to her first grade class to help build gingerbread houses.  While we were helping her with her gingerbread house, my wife and I whispered and laughed to ourselves at how rundown our house looked compared to others in the class.

I sang the lyrics to a song that we both like in her ear, and we laughed some more.  The song is called “The Crazy Ones.”  In the song it says “we march to the beat of a different drum.”  While our gingerbread house didn’t look good in the traditional sense, I was proud of my little one’s originality.

She didn’t compare her house to others, and didn’t seem to care that ours was messy looking.  All she cared about was having fun and eating candy.  In a perfect world, that’s about all kids her age should care about.

Tragically, today proved that innocence is not guaranteed for kids of any age.

I brought my daughter home from school early after the gingerbread decorating was done.  She was up in her room when my phone rang.  It was my father-in-law, obviously distraught as he told me about the senseless shooting that happened this morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  He was warning me not to turn on the news in front of the kids.

My heart sank as we spoke.  As soon as we hung up, I went right upstairs to hug and kiss my little girl and tell her that I loved her.  We’re always very affectionate, so she thought nothing of it, but inside, I was still trying to wrap my head around this devastating news.

For the past few days, one of my daughter’s front teeth has been hanging by a thread, but it didn’t seem ready to come out yet.  Once I heard this news, I was hoping that she would just leave it alone because I didn’t want the loss of her first front tooth to come on the same day of the Sandy Hook tragedy.  But it wasn’t meant to be.  As I was watching the news, she came to the top of the stairs with blood dripping from her mouth.

I had no choice but to pull the tooth, and comfort her as she cried hysterically at the sight of the blood.  I held her tight and assured her that everything was going to be okay.  And it will be, at least as far as the tooth is concerned, but after seeing the news today, it’s hard for me to believe that everything will actually be okay.

The world is a fucked up place nowadays.  We lost our innocence as a nation on 9/11/01, and we’ve seen more school shootings than any of us ever thought possible.  But the shooting of little, innocent, elementary school kids goes beyond anything that our minds can comprehend.  The last safe haven that we had no longer exists, and this is truly the end of the innocence.

I keep thinking about all of the joy that I experienced today with fellow parents decorating gingerbread houses with our first graders.  Everyone was happy, smiling, content in our little corner of the world.  I can’t even imagine what would possess anyone to stare into the eyes of all of those innocent faces, point a gun at them and pull the trigger. I’m glad that the shooter is dead, but I wish that he would have killed himself before walking into an elementary school with an assault rifle in his hands and malice in his heart.

I pray for the parents of those who inexplicably lost their child today in this tragedy.  Their worlds will never be the same.  Quite frankly, none of us will ever be the same either.

Hard Times: Lost on Long Island

In Family, Life, Life Lessons, Television on July 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Image

No one ever thinks that it could happen to them…until it does…and then they understand just how quickly the “American Dream” can turn into the “American nightmare.”  In what has to be one of the most depressing documentaries ever, Hard Times:  Lost on Long Island shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that bad things happen to good, hard-working people.

There used to be a perception that people who needed any kind of government assistance were lazy, unmotivated and perfectly content to “live off the dole.”  In some circles, that perception still exists, and while it may be true for some, it certainly is not true of those who were once considered middle class and upper middle class not too long ago.  Anyone who thinks otherwise should take an hour out of their day to watch this eye-opening HBO Documentary.

Seeing the shear agony on the faces of those who were brave enough to share their story with the world should be enough to at least alter the perception of those who think that government assistance is a crutch that merely prevents people from trying to find steady employment.  It simply is not the case.

Growing up on Long Island, I didn’t see much poverty, although I’m sure that it always existed in places that I never frequented.  My only real exposure to poverty as a kid was in Manhattan when my father used to take my brother and me to the Bowery to see the “bums.”  Back then, they weren’t called homeless.  And though many years have passed since I last visited the Bowery, I do remember that the “bums” did not seem particularly desperate, rather more resigned to living on the street and drinking heavily.  That’s not to say that some of them weren’t in real pain, but they just didn’t seem as hopeless and sad as people are today (even those who still have a home).

For those in dire straits, the sobering statistics shared on Hard Times:  Lost on Long Island offer very little in the way of hope:

  • 25 million unemployed and under-employed people in America
  • There are 4 job-seekers for every available job
  • Average length of unemployment is over 9 months long
  • The longer people are out of work, the less likely they are to find a job
  • Long-term unemployed suffer more often from physical and psychological health problems
  • More than 5 million personal bankruptcies have been filed since 2008
  • More than 6 million homes have fallen into foreclosure since 2008
  • Today, a record 45 million people use food stamps
  • Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have more than tripled since 2007

In May of 1947, the suburban dream began on Long Island in Levittown with 2000 affordable homes being rented and then converted into purchases with no down payment and monthly mortgage payments equal to the rental price.  The concept then spread across America.

The first apartment that my wife and I shared together was a rental in Levittown.  When the homeowner died and the house was sold, we were asked to leave the property.  The job market at the time for elementary education teachers on Long Island was very difficult, so my wife gave up on the dream of becoming a teacher and we moved to Manhattan.

Even though my wife had given up her teaching dream, we still planned on living the “American dream.”

After moving around a bit, we ended up back in the suburbs of Suffolk County, where we saw first-hand that life on Long Island quickly got to be very expensive.  Being a real estate agent at the time, I foolishly believed that the irrational exuberance of the real estate market would continue and home prices on Long Island would keep rising, so we purchased a home at the height of the market.

All bubbles burst, so it is not at all surprising to me (in retrospect) that the real estate bubble burst as well.  And as a result, the suburbs are now the fastest growing area of poverty in America.  Those who think that foreclosure and bankruptcy could never happen to them should not think in such absolute terms.

The stories featured on Hard Times:  Lost on Long Island were about successful people with good jobs who lived within their means.  But when income is lost for whatever reason, it is impossible to continue to live the same lifestyle, even for the most disciplined among us.

Unlike most fictional stories that come out of Hollywood, this documentary did not feature many happy endings.  Only one of the people featured in the program was finally offered a job (after a two-year search).  The others continue to struggle and one story ended in tragedy.

Dave Hartstein, a 35-year-old chiropractor and father of three (including an infant with Downs Syndrome), died after contracting Hantavirus while cleaning out the basement of his home to put it up for sale.  He and his wife, Heather (an out-of-work school teacher), had filed for bankruptcy and were trying to work out a loan modification with the bank at the time.

At the end of the documentary, a still shot of the Hartsteins walking with their kids is displayed as Heather sadly states…”We had the dream, the dream was lived…the dream ended.”

Please share your experiences (anonymously if you would like) in the comment section below.  If you, or someone you know, has been out of work for a long time or forced to rely on any kind of government assistance during this economic crisis, please share this post on Facebook (or privately).  At the very least, those who are suffering will know that they are not the only ones who are going through difficult times.
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It’s Been a Decade Since…

In Family, Life, Life Lessons on July 20, 2011 at 8:26 pm

The surgeon told us to prepare for the inevitable.  After an improbable battle that lasted for five days, we were told to say our goodbyes.  I gave my father a hug, kissed him on his head, told him that I loved him, and said goodbye.  I told him that it was okay to let go, and that I would keep him in my heart forever.  I knew that there was nothing more that could be done, and I also knew that he was already gone as I said my final farewell.  All that was left to do was to wait for a life-altering call from the nurse who had spent five days taking care of my father and my family.

We sat on a bench outside of the hospital on a hot summer night.  We all accepted the fact that we were about to receive the news that we had dreaded for days, but we were still in shock and almost numb to what was about to happen.

It’s been ten years to the day since I got the call that my father passed away.  It’s been ten years, and yet I can still remember the exact minute of his passing.  I can put myself in that moment as if it was happening right now.

The two worst days of the year for my family and me are my father’s birthday and the anniversary of his passing.  Never a day goes by that I don’t think of him several times, but these two days are somehow more painful and raw than the rest.  These are the days that we are left to wonder “what if?” and “if only…”

They say that time heals all wounds, but that is not really true.  While the pain doesn’t sting quite as much as time passes, it never truly goes away.  The void that was left by my father’s untimely passing will always be there.

It struck me the other day that losing my dad ten years ago marks a full decade since he has been with us to celebrate the moments, both large and small.  Ten years sounds like a long time, but a decade sounds and feels even longer.

As a society, we look at each decade as a collective moment in time.  We define each decade by the events of the world, pop culture and trends in music, fashion, television, movies, etc.  It’s our way of compartmentalizing our lives so that we can share nostalgic trips down memory lane with our friends and families.

Being born in the late 60’s, I have no memories of what life was like in that decade, but I have very strong memories of my childhood in the 70’s and 80’s, and my early adult years in the 90’s.  Some of the greatest memories of each of those decades were created with my dad.

Time marches on.  Days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months, months turn to years, and now years have turned into a decade.

If not for the fact that my two children were born in the first decade of the new millennium, I would look back at this past ten years as a “lost decade.”  Even with my children, the past decade can best be described as bittersweet and incomplete.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since I’ve spoken with my dad (aside from the occasional conversation that happens all too infrequently in my dreams).

Despite all of the advances that have been made in the past decade, I still find myself holding on to the past with an unbreakable grip, longing for days gone by, and wishing that this was all a bad dream.  If I could have just one wish, it would be to give my dad and my kids the chance to create the memories together that they were deprived of because of a tragedy that happened a decade ago.

For the most part, today was okay.  Spending the day with my wife and kids the way that my dad would have spent his day off gave me some solace and some inner peace.  While I couldn’t stop my mind from drifting towards my dad all day long, I did my best not to let it affect the kids.

Tomorrow starts the second decade life without my dad, which seems almost surreal.  Like this past decade, I fully expect to think about him every day, and keep him in my heart as I promised him I would a decade ago.

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Our Journey Home – Experiencing Ohio

In Family, Life, Pursuit of Happiness on June 6, 2011 at 6:26 am

We were all up early this morning.  After reminding the kids that today was the day that we would be back in New York at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, my little one instantly started acting like a clown, dancing around the room with a dance she called “The Waddle.”  As usual, she had us all laughing out loud at her antics.

Visiting Ohio has been an experience that we’ll remember for many years to come.

We started out in Cincinnati, which is only an hour-and-a-half from Louisville (our shortest drive on the trip).  The ride would have been a breeze compared to our other travel had we not encountered some maniac on the road who nearly hit each of our cars while speeding and tailgating.  I can only hope that karma takes care of this Kentucky a-hole before he hurts innocent people with his dangerous driving.

If not for the fact that the Reds were playing a home game against the Dodgers (our favorite team), we may very well have driven right through Cincinnati without stopping.  We didn’t see much else of Cincinnati besides the baseball stadium, but seeing a game at Great American Ballpark was good enough for my son and me.  The stadium has great scenic views of the river and surrounding area (particularly from the cheap seats behind home plate).  It was surprisingly easy to get in and out of the stadium area with very little traffic.  This never seems to be the case with New York ballparks.  Even though the Dodgers lost a close game, it was still a fun experience.

When we were leaving Cincinnati, our plan was to spend two nights in Akron because it is situated between Canton (where the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located) and Cleveland.  Severe weather warnings and a terrible hotel experience altered our plans a bit, but it all worked out in the end.

My son and I planned on going to see the Indians play the Texas Rangers in a night game and then go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame the following day, but we didn’t want to take the chance of going all the way to Cleveland with weather forecast, so we decided to go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame first, and catch the afternoon game the following day.

We arrived at the Quality Inn in Akron, intending to check in, put our stuff in the room, and head out to Canton.  Despite my research before booking the rooms, this hotel turned out to be a nightmare.  I have no idea what the majority of reviewers were thinking on this one.  The two-story hotel had no elevators, and we had far too much stuff to bring in to be making trips up and down the stairs.

When I asked for a room on the first floor, the incompetent attendant said that it would be a $30 charge to change the room (since it was pre-paid).  I agreed to pay the $30, but then she said that it couldn’t be done.  When we went around the building to the entrance nearest our room, we saw that the door was unlocked.  I mentioned it to the other incompetent attendant, and he said that it probably would be locked later on.  I immediately called Hotels.com and cancelled the second night in the hotel, and just decided to take the loss on the room that was too late to cancel.

After a bit of scrambling, we decided to just take both cars to Canton and all go to the Hall of Fame together.  Even though my wife and daughter didn’t plan on going with us, we ended up having a fun time with the whole family.  My little one was surprisingly well-behaved, and made the most of the experience.  My wife found the Hall of Fame to be very interesting.  Of course, it was a dream-come-true for my son and me because of our love of the game.

We spent almost four hours at the Hall of Fame, but could have easily stayed longer if time allowed.  There was so much to see beyond the busts of all of the greats who are enshrined there.  It was a tremendous learning experience about the history of the game.  The highlight for me was the Super Bowl Theater where you get to experience an inside look at various games through coaches and players wearing microphones.  After seeing and hearing so many violent hits, it left me wondering how NFL players can keep taking such a constant pounding, only to get up and do over and over again.

The inside look at the most recent Super Bowl was incredible.  Even though we knew the outcome, I found myself cheering for the Packers as if the game were being played live.  While I loved the experience, if I were a Steelers fan, I would have been miserable reliving the moment in high def with surround sound.

Thinking that we had left tornado alley upon arriving in Ohio, I was surprised when we were ushered into the basement area because the tornado sirens were going off.  Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing but a thunderstorm.  And while I wasn’t thrilled to be taking cover from a potential tornado, it did help that we were in the area of the Hall of Fame filled with video and sports games.  My son and I didn’t even get through a half of a game on Madden before we were allowed to leave the basement area.

We finished touring the Hall of Fame, grabbed some souvenirs for each of us, and headed out to Cleveland where we decided to stay for two nights.

Although we hit some stormy weather on the way, it was a pretty clear ride for most of the hour-long trip.  The hotel that we ended up in was infinitely better than the one that we left in Akron (although the late-night dining options were few and far between).

We got a good night’s sleep and set out early the next morning to explore downtown Cleveland a bit before going to see the Rangers play the Indians in the afternoon.

The city of Cleveland is nice enough, but there wasn’t much going on when we got there.  It’s hard to say whether it was because it was a Sunday morning, or if it was just the way that it is in the city.  If this trip has taught me anything, it is that New York City is truly one-of-a-kind, with an energy that doesn’t exist in other places.

After walking around a bit, we got to the stadium about a half hour before game time.  There was no wait at all to buy tickets.  We ended up buying seats in the upper deck behind home plate.  Actually, we ended up with seats in the last row in the stadium, which gave my wife an uneasy feeling, so we moved to the empty second-to-last row in the next section.  Even though we were high up, it was still a great deal for $8 per ticket.  In fact, Progressive Field is the first stadium that I’ve ever been to where the cheap seats are in the shade.

Even though there were plenty of empty seats if we wanted to move down for a closer vantage point, I enjoyed the comfort of the upper deck so much that we stayed there the entire game.  Between the shade and the breeze blowing through the openings at the top of the stadium, my wife actually said that she was chilly at some points.

The game was a low-scoring affair, but the home runs hit by Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus were enough to seal the 2-0 shutout by C.J. Wilson.

We were amongst the very few Ranger fans in the stadium, but we were able to cheer for the visiting team without any incident.  The fans in Cleveland are great, and Progressive Field was my favorite stadium to visit.  Yesterday’s game was my favorite baseball experience of all-time.  Aside from the comfort of our seats, and the incredible stadium, it was the perfect way to say goodbye to Texas one last time.

The Rangers have become our second favorite team.  Living in close proximity to their home stadium for two years has given us a connection to the team that will last a lifetime.  The only disappointment of yesterday’s game was that we didn’t get to see my son’s favorite player (Josh Hamilton) in the game. He was given the day off to rest.  Other than that, it was a perfect day, and a perfect way to end our journey.

The time has finally come for us to complete our journey home.  We’ll be heading out shortly, and will cross the New York State line before the morning is out.  Part of me is disappointed to see this incredible journey come to an end, but more than anything, I am excited to finally be back in New York for good.  We can’t wait to see all of the family and friends that we’ve missed while we’ve been in Texas.

Hopefully, the rest of our journey today will be as enjoyable as the past week has been.  There will be updates about our trip back to New York and our experiences when we get there to follow.

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Our Journey Home – Experiencing Kentucky

In Family, Life, Pursuit of Happiness on June 4, 2011 at 6:53 am

Half-way across the bridge heading east out of St. Louis, we crossed the state line into Illinois.  Like most people who are not from the area, the only thing that comes to mind when talking about Illinois is Chicago, so the drive through southern Illinois came as quite a surprise.

Far removed from the vibrant city life of Chicago is a land filled with trees and almost no people, houses or places to eat or refuel.  As we drove through this area, I couldn’t help but think that this is what it must feel like to drive through the desert on the way to Las Vegas, the only difference being trees instead of sand.

We finally found a place to eat as we approached the Indiana state line, but it was still a far cry from Chicago.  The Subway that we found off the beaten path had a redneck feel that made you forget that you were in the Midwest.  I can honestly say that this is the first time that I had to navigate around a gigantic dead bird in the road.  My wife and I still aren’t sure if it was a wild turkey or a buzzard, but either way, it was very strange to see.

Driving through Indiana was much the same as the drive through Illinois.  The only point of interest was seeing road signs and billboards for a town called Santa Claus.  And though Indiana couldn’t compete with the crazy road signs that we saw in Missouri, there was one that we found while pulling off the road to go to a gas station.

The sign read “Prison Area – Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers.”  Maybe it’s just my upbringing, but I’ve always been taught never to pick up hitchhikers in any area, not just prison areas.

After a few detours and some construction traffic, we ended up getting to Louisville a bit later than expected.  We checked into the hotel, dropped our stuff off in the room, and headed right back out to catch a Minor League Baseball game.

We arrived at Louisville Slugger Stadium in the middle of the first inning of a game between the hometown Louisville Bats and the Syracuse Chiefs.  We were all impressed with the five-year old stadium…even my little one.  It took a few innings, but she eventually discovered the carousel and play area on the opposite side of the stadium.

Journeying back to New York, it felt strange rooting against Syracuse, but since we had no allegiance to either team, it was more fun to join the crowd in rooting for the home team.  The game was kind of slow early on, but ended in exciting fashion as the home team sealed the victory with some towering home runs in the late innings.

Everyone had a great time at the game, but the highlight of our trip to Kentucky came the next morning when we visited the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.

Before the guided tour of the factory where bats are manufactured, we spent some time exploring the exhibits.  My son and I both got to pose for pictures holding Mickey Mantle and Cal Ripken Jr. game-used bats (something that even the most casual baseball fan can appreciate).

Seeing how the bats were hand-crafted when Louisville Slugger first started was interesting.  Experiencing how they are made now with expensive machinery was amazing.  What used to take 20 minutes now takes a mere 45 seconds to create.

At the end of the tour, we were each given mini bats to take home as a souvenir.  It’s a nice gesture, but one that seems to be kind of hazardous as kids can’t seem to stop themselves from swinging them without looking to see who or what is near them.

I got my son a small bat with his name inscribed on it.  This is a keepsake that he will undoubtedly treasure for many years to come.

My son and I each took one round of swings in the batting cages when our tour was complete.  The balls were only coming in at around 45mph, but that is still fast enough to hurt when the machine goes haywire and hits you in the ribs with a pitch.  After I “took one for the team” in the batting cage, the operator explained to me that they had been having problems with that cage, which is why they were only letting the adults use it.  Thankfully, I’m none the worse for wear, and now I’ll have a story to tell for years to come.

Before we left to get back on the road, we took the opportunity to visit the Norman Rockwell exhibit which was on loan to the museum for a two-week period.  It was very cool to see all of his original work.

If not for this journey, it’s hard to imagine ever taking the opportunity to visit Kentucky to experience some great baseball memories.  As a lifelong baseball fan, I’m glad that I got the chance to do this with my family.

The final stops on our journey home will be in Ohio.  I’ll post about our Ohio experiences soon.

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